Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was born in Switzerland in 1926. She was part of a package deal--a triplet (and a two-pounder at that). That she survived the birth (as did her two sisters, another two pounder and a more robust six pounder) is something of a miracle. As she explains, her early childhood was filled with other more memorable experiences around death as well, including a long battle with pneumonia and deathbed scenes of neighbors in her small town.

In the aftermath of World War II, she was a volunteer in IVSP, International Voluntary Service for Peace. She spent time in Poland and then Germany, aiding survivors of the concentration camps, as well as the defeated Germans, to rebuild their lives. She returned to Switzerland and went to medical school, eventually marrying an American student studying there.

After practicing as a small town family doctor, she came to the U.S. in the 1950s. Her plans to serve a residency in pediatrics were changed to psychiatry (because they didn’t want someone who was pregnant). In Denver, after residency, she was asked to lecture to medical students. She chose a topic that was out of the ordinary, but something she felt at home with--death and dying.

In 1965, in Chicago, she continued her work in this area. At the urging of some theology students she began a weekly seminar with dying patients, health professions students, (and eventually ) their more skeptical teachers. This experience led to the publication, in 1969, of her book, On Death and Dying. It is in this book that the "stages" of dying are discussed. The remainder of The Wheel of Life deals with more controversial aspects of Kubler-Ross’s life.


Although this book is not a literary masterpiece, it does provide a glimpse into the life of a major figure in 20th century medicine; at least to those interested in death and dying. The most intriguing part of this book deals with Kubler-Ross’s life before her fame. It was shortly after her first book’s success, when she turned to the supernatural, that Kubler-Ross’s life (and consequently this book) went (go) "off the deep end."

However, there is an interesting account in her later years of her attempt to set up a home for children with AIDS in rural Virginia (she was run out of town and her home and all her possessions were lost in a fire); and a sense of pathos at the end--she’s living with (and hoping to die soon from) the devastating effects of a series of strokes. The material dealing with her forays into New Age (occult?) involves a lot of blaming of others, but little renunciation. She still is in contact with "friendly" spirits.



Place Published

New York



Page Count